Mike and I are in the car on our way to Clarion to do some shopping. I was in a particularly chipper…I do like that word…mood. I had a release date for my fourth Lancer, Inc. novel, Vengeance…happy, happy, happy. Mike is driving and I am thinking about book signings and marketing. Driving in rural Pennsylvania requires having eyes, not only in the back of your head, but on both sides as well. Around these parts you are almost always surrounded by woods or fields and you never know what will dart into your path. Almost at the same time Mike and I saw a young groundhog run into the middle of the road. He seemed confused, and picked up speed-when he either saw, heard, or perhaps felt the presence of the car. Mike put on the brakes, trying to avoid hitting the little guy. I’m trying to will it off of the road and finally it disappeared into the weeds on my side of the road. We laughed and proceeded on our journey.
The temperature was over 90 degrees and I thought about how that hot asphalt must feel on the pads of that young animals feet. As sometimes happens, from that simple thought, it was game on for the next fifteen or twenty minutes. A myriad of questions and images flitted through my brain. How do animals handle the same situations we do? On a 90 degree day stepping on an asphalt road would burn our bare feet. We would either turn back or run, if we really needed to cross. Is that why the groundhog ran? Not because he was afraid of the car, but because his feet hurt?
I remember once, when I was about eleven years old, we moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. We lived in a cabin in the Sandia Mountains until our house was ready to move into. I loved it in those mountains and I explored everything. One afternoon I was climbing up the side of a mountain, reaching up to grab something to pull myself along. What I grabbed was a small scrub brush and it just popped out of the ground and sent me falling backwards. I rolled and tumbled and finally came to rest in the middle of a patch of cactus, something I will never forget-trust me, you don’t want this particular memory. It took, what seemed like hours for me to get back home. I had to walk very gingerly and every step was pure hell. When I got home I told my mother what happened and that I needed help getting the thorns out of my butt and the backs of my legs. She finally did get them all out and I give her a lot of credit-she only laughed once or twice. When she told me I looked like a pin cushion, it seemed to make her laugh harder.
What would a young coyote or wolf cub do in the same situation? Especially if the thorns were in the pads of their feet? How would they walk back to their den? Would their mother pull them out with her teeth-or let nature take it’s course? Animals are so very intelligent, albeit in different ways than we humans-I think they would have an ingenious way to handle that situation. Or, they would be smarter than I was and not get themselves into the situation in the first place.
I have no idea why my mind goes into a tangent of sorts, flitting from one subject to another, at the drop of a hat. But I do know that it comes in handy once in a while-during the writing process. Of course, it can be a bit of a distraction as well.
I know animals show love and pride. Before we started rescuing cats we made friends with a raccoon that took up residence in a barn across the street. They do love marshmallows and it was so much fun watching her eat them. The next spring she came to visit. Behind her were five or six baby raccoons…they were adorable. She paraded them right up to the porch so we could see them. We knew what she wanted and we gladly threw half a bag of marshmallows onto the ground. The young ones also loved the sweet treat. It soon became a routine every night at dusk.
I am always saddened by the number of people who have no respect for lesser animals. Apparently they have forgotten that we are also animals…we just have bigger brains. Sometimes that fact doesn’t resonate through the cruelty some routinely show animals. I can’t imagine not interacting with the raccoons, groundhogs, squirrels and many other species that we share the forest with. We even had a bear cub, that couldn’t have weighed more than twenty pounds, in the pine tree near our front porch for two days. I hand fed him peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and he loved a nice bowl of milk every morning. I was very aware of his claws and teeth and how dangerous he could be…regardless of his size. I’m sure he was thinking the same thing about me.
You can learn so much-just by paying attention. As authors, paying attention should be second nature.